Happy Heroes 44 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 15 August 2008 01:52

Chapter 43 – The Strange Person in the Secret House

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Early hours before dawn. The morning fog had just risen up from the roadway made of cobblestone. The road was very narrow.

As Guo DaLu turned past the lane and to the right, he saw a very familiar-looking door. What that meant was he had once gone through this door before. But in this city, he practically did not know a single person here and did not even have a single household that he was acquainted with. He immediately recalled that this door was the same door he had barged into when he was pursuing the pock-faced man in the daytime.

There were no lamps lit inside now. Was that sallow, emaciated-looking husband doing the deed that made him sallow and emaciated?


Guo DaLu had originally intended on coming to this place during the night to investigate and see if the pock-faced man would show up there. Now, though, he had changed his mind.

He continued forward and turned right again.

This particular lane was neatly lined with bluestone slabs and appeared to be far cleaner and tidier than the other lanes. It was already into the small hours, yet several lights were still lit inside. He saw the characters on two of the lanterns, and immediately, his eyes shone.

“Liu Chun Yuan*.”

So, it turns out that MeiLan guniang’s love nest [original xiang chao; literally ‘fragrant nest’; gen. a more derogatory term] was in this lane. Unfortunately, now was not the time to go visit a brothel. MeiLan guniang’s jade-like arm perhaps was being used as someone else’s pillow right then. Even if Guo DaLu was a philanderer, he could not charge in there now and spoil someone else’s fun.

But there seemed to be a very particular feeling in his heart, almost like the feeling a poet gets right before the perfect line of a verse has come to him.

Picking up his speed, he turned right again. He was now on a main street. He walked along the street for another ten steps or so and then, he saw that grain shop as well as Hui Bin Liu’s gold-lettered shopsign diagonally across the way.

A few stone blocks were set along the side of the street. Guo DaLu sat himself down on one to ponder.

Let’s say that the line of houses that made up the household the young girl lived in was the first line. The rooms of that husband and wife couple would be the second line. The rooms that made up Liu Chun Yuan would be considered the third line. And the grain shop would of course be the fourth line. Within each of these four lines of houses was someone who somehow had connections to the pock-faced man.

If the pock-faced man had not wanted him to go to the Dragon King Temple, how could he have encountered the young girl? Was this coincidence? Or was it an intentional arrangement? Was it because she knew some sort of secret but could not tell him so she deliberately used this way to drop him a hint? What secret could she know? Had she deliberately hidden beneath the table and deliberately allowed Guo DaLu to discover her presence? Could this all have been arranged by the pock-faced man ahead of time? What would his motive for doing that be?



Guo DaLu rose to his feet, retraced his steps, and then walked back along the same route once again.

These four lines of houses formed a quadrilateral with sides of unequal length. In any city’s streets, the line of houses in front always pressed up against the line directly behind it. However, between the first and third lines of houses here, there was actually a very wide distance. It was the same for the second and fourth ones as well. Therefore, in the middle of these four lines of houses, there must be an open space.

Guo DaLu’s heart leapt suddenly. Was there some sort of special reason that these four lines of houses were deliberately constructed in this way? There was only one way to find out the answer to this question.

Guo DaLu soared up onto the roof of the grain shop.



The room at the front of the grain shop was the front sales counter. In the back, there was also a courtyard. The rooms on either side of the courtyard appeared to be the bedrooms of the master of the household, and the one at the back was the storeroom for the grains. There should have been no other rooms beyond that.

Guo DaLu was already on the roof of that back storeroom, and he instantly saw that, sure enough, there was another house in the middle of the four lines of houses. The four households were like four walls, surrounding that house in the center so that it neither had an exit or a front entrance. Who in the world would actually build their home in this sort of place? If Guo DaLu flew over the roof of that house, he would be on the husband-wife couple’s property, or the second line of houses. Unless one was paying particular attention, anyone would think that this house was joined to one of the other properties. Even if there was a nightwalker passing over on the roof, that person still would definitely not notice what was unusual about this house.



But Guo DaLu had discovered it now.

Could it be that the master of this house was the pock-faced man? Naturally, to build this house in a place like this must have required a lot of effort and a very large price, but why would he do that? Could he be like the one-legged monk and have a secret that could not be divulged to anyone? Or perhaps he was trying to elude the pursuit of a very powerful enemy and so he needed to build such a house to hide away in? This house was indeed much more concealed than any other place Guo DaLu had seen before, but why did he seem to deliberately, yet not quite deliberately, allow Guo DaLu to discover this secret? If he had not exposed a trail of clues, Guo DaLu would definitely not have been able to find this place.

Guo DaLu pondered over this. The more he thought about it, the more he found this whole matter to be extremely mysterious and complicated. In order to find out the answer to everything, there was only one thing that could be done.

He jumped down.



Between the storeroom of the grainshop and this house, there was actually another wall. On the inside of this wall was a very long and narrow courtyard. The spring flowers had not withered away yet, and they gave off a delicate fragrance amidst the morning mist. Beyond the courtyard was a long gallery, and the light of the early morning was shining upon its spotless floor.

All around, it was very quiet. Not a sound could be heard. Even the wind could not blow into this place. It was completely isolated from all the worries, grudges, joys, and sorrows of human society. Only someone who had experienced the rise and falls of life and seen beyond the ways of the world and whose heart was like still water could live in a place like this – was worthy of living in a place like this.

The pock-faced man did not appear to be such a person. Could Guo DaLu have been mistaken? His speculations were wrong? He nearly wanted to retreat out of there.

But at that instant, he saw a person step out quietly from the very end of the gallery. It was a young girl, beautiful as a spring flower, dressed in a snow-white gown, wearing no rouge or powder and without shoes, only a pair of white stockings on her feet, as if for fear that the sound of her footsteps would shatter this peaceful quiet that allowed people to forget about worldly things. In her hands, she carried a “sunshine after the rain” porcelain [phrase used to describe the unique lustre of this famous porcelain] dish as she stepped quietly through the gallery. If she had not suddenly turned around to cast a glance in Guo DaLu’s direction, Guo DaLu nearly did not recognize her.


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* Original text actually says "Liu Xiang Yuan." It looks like Gu Long slipped-up. The previous chapter had called MeiLan's brothel "Liu Chun Yuan" and it is obvious that is what GL is referring to here. I kept "Liu Chun Yuan" to be consistent.

 
This gentle, quiet, simple girl astonishingly was MeiLan guniang, the girl who, in the daytime, had adorned herself up so that she looked like a demoness.

She clearly should have seen Guo DaLu when she turned back to look, but yet she appeared as if she had not noticed anything. Lowering her head, she proceeded forward again silently.

Guo DaLu, though, nearly could not contain himself and wanted to shout. However, even Guo DaLu did not dare cry out in such a place, did not wish to disturb the tranquility. He could only stand there in a daze.

MeiLan had gently pushed open the door and quietly stepped inside. There was still no sound inside the house, nothing astir. Clearly, this was a forbidden place that did not allow outsiders to enter, yet Guo DaLu was plainly standing there and no one was paying him any attention, as if he simply did not exist.

What sort of people actually lived here? What was it that they intended to do to him?

Guo DaLu stared blankly for a long time. All of a sudden, with large strides, he stepped into the gallery. Regardless of whether it was a person or a ghost in that room, for good or for bad, he should at least have a look.

But as his foot stepped up into the gallery, he retracted it again. He had noticed the mud on his feet. The gallery was as bright and shiny as a mirror. To step onto it with his dirty pair of feet was something even he could not bring himself to do and was a little embarrassed to do. He took off his muddy shoes. His socks could still be considered clean, although they did have a bit of a stench, but he could not worry about such things at the moment.

And so, he walked over and shoved open that door.

Surprisingly, the room was empty. There was nothing inside – no bed, no tables and chairs, no decorations, and not a single speck of dust. Spread out on the ground was a very thick straw mat, and on top of that mat was a set of snow-white bedding. A person was lying inside the covers. The scent of medicinal herbs permeated through the room. It was apparent that person had a grave illness.

Guo DaLu did not see the person’s face because right then, a white-dressed girl with long hair brushing past her shoulders was kneeling by his side, slowly feeding him the bowl of medicine that MeiLan had brought in. Guo DaLu could not see the girl’s face either as her back was facing him. Only MeiLan’s face was turned in his direction. She had clearly seen him push open the door, but there still was not a trace of expression on her face. It was as if she simply did not view him as a living human being. Guo DaLu wished he could dart over there, grab her by the hair, and ask her whether her eyes were actually on the top of her head.

This room, though, was just too quiet, so quiet that it seemed like a temple and gave people a sense of sacred solemnness that should not be desecrated. Once again, Guo DaLu nearly wanted to step back out of there. The person he was looking for was not there anyway, and plus, this type of atmosphere was precisely the type that he could not bear.

Who would have thought that, right at that moment, the girl with long hair covering her shoulders would suddenly speak up in a quiet tone? “Hurry in. Close the door. Don’t let the wind blow in here.” Listening to her tone of voice, it sounded as if she had known all along that Guo DaLu would come and also seemed to treat Guo DaLu like he was someone in her family.

Guo DaLu’s heart nearly stopped beating. That was clearly the sound of Yan Qi’s voice. Could this long-haired, white-dressed girl be Yan Qi?



The door was closed now.

Guo DaLu stood there like a wooden figure, his eyes wide as he stared at the white-dressed girl. All he could see was her back. It was thin and slender and her deep black hair hung loosely like strands of rain on her shoulders. Guo DaLu’s hands were tightly clenched, his lips dry, and his heart beating as if it wanted to jump out of his throat. He really wished he could rush over there, grab her by the shoulders, and have her turn her face toward him. No one would truly be able to comprehend how much he longed to see her face.

But he was only able to stand there like a wooden figurine. Because he did not dare – did not dare defile this sacred solemness and, even moreso, did not dare disrespect her.

The sick man had at last finished drinking his medicine and lay down. Guo DaLu could finally see his head of white hair, but he still had not seen his face yet. Kneeling beside him, she gently set down the bowl and pulled up the bedquilt over him, seeming to be very close and treating him with respect and love and consideration. If Guo DaLu had not seen his head full of white hair, he practically would not have been able to restrain his jealousy.

Who was this old man? Why would she be so considerate and caring to him?

He could hear the old man cough lightly before, after a long while, he spoke unexpectedly, “Has he arrived already?”

The white-dressed girl nodded.

The old man ordered, “Tell him to come over.” Even though his voice was old and feeble, it still carried an indescribably intimidating strength.

At last, the white-dressed girl slowly turned her head around. At last, Guo DaLu saw her face.

In that instant, all things and creatures in the universe seemed to suddenly perish and stop.

“Yan Qi… Yan Qi…” Guo DaLu called out in his heart. Burning tears wanted to spill out from his eyes. There was no sound accompanying this cry of his heart, but she seemed to have heard it – only she could hear it. Beads of tears brimmed in her eyes also.

He had experienced innumerable hardships, countless torments, and numerous trials, and now, he could finally see her again. How could you tell him that he should not shed tears? How would you know whether his tears were from sadness or happiness? In the end, he managed to hold them back. Besides her, he was unwilling to have anyone see him cry.

But he was not able to stop himself from looking at her face. It was no longer that face from before which had held a bit of feiged anger and a bit of mischieviousness. Now, all that remained on that face was genuine love. Nor was it the face in the past that, although very filthy, had been filled with a healthy, joyful glow. Now, this face was pale and weary and so beautiful it could break someone’s heart. It was apparent that she, too, had endured countless torments and immeasurable pain. The one thing that had not changed was her eyes. Her eyes were just as bright and still carried that strength. But why was her head lowered? Could it be that she had not been able to stop her tears from flowing?

The old man coughed lightly once again. She finally wiped away her tears quietly, raised her head, and, beckoning to Guo DaLu with her hand, said, “Come over.”

Guo DaLu’s eyes were still fixed on her face, looking like he had been hypnotized by some sort of spell as, step by step, he walked over. Her head lowered again and her cheeks seemed to grow pink. This same rosy tint had coloured her cheeks in the past, but Guo DaLu had never really paid attention to it. Men will sometimes blush too. Right then, Guo DaLu wished he could box his own ears ten hard times. He really could not understand how he could have been so stupid and how could he have not seen that she was a woman.

With a sigh, the old man instructed, “Come a little closer. Let me take a look at you.”

Guo DaLu did not hear him. At the moment, aside from her, he was not able to hear what anyone said.

Yan Qi was nibbling on her lip. “Did you hear what my Papa said?” she chided.

Guo DaLu was taken aback by this. “He… this respected senior [orig. laorenjia; polite address for an old man/woman] is your father?”

Yan Qi nodded.

Guo DaLu immediately walked over closer. He could be disrespectful to anyone, be unhearing to anyone’s words, but of course Yan Qi’s father would be an exception.

The old man saw him. He also saw the old man.

He paused once again in astonishment.

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The world has many types of people, and so, there are also many types of faces. Some faces are long, some are round, some are handsome. Some faces are bright and cheerful and they illuminate other people, while some forever look as if someone owes them 30,000 liang and has not paid them back yet. Guo DaLu had seen many people and had looked at many faces.

But he had never seen a face like this one!



Strictly speaking, this could no longer be considered a human face but rather, it was a living skull. All that was left of that long and square face was a layer of skin wrapped around bone. It seemed as if it had absolutely no blood or flesh. Yet on each side of that blade scar, blood and flesh jutted up.

The most frightful thing was that scar!

Two blade scars had been sliced across his face so that they formed a cross shape. The one on the left side cut across his eye, then across his nose all the way to the corner of his mouth. The one on the right started from his right cheek and sliced over the bridge of his nose to the base of his ear. As a result, one was not able to distinguish the shape of the nose on this face anymore. All that was left was a single eye – a half-closed eye. By now, the scar from that wound had healed over long ago, left there for an indeterminate number of years. The flesh that protruded up on either sides of the scar, though, was still deep red, like the color of fresh blood. Against his gaunt, pale face, that blood-red cross-shaped scar appeared as if it was aflame, like the mark of an evil spirit from hell.

This old man looked as if he did live in hell.



Even Guo DaLu’s breathing nearly stopped. He could not bear, and did not dare, to look at that face, but yet he could not avoid it either. In fact, he could not allow himself to show even the slightest repulsion or fear because this old man was Yan Qi’s father.

The old man was looking at him right then with that half-closed eye. After a lengthy moment, he asked slowly, “You are Guo DaLu?”

“Yes.” Guo DaLu answered.

Old man: “You are my daughter’s good friend?”

Guo DaLu: “Yes.”

Old man: “You think that my face is very ugly and very frightening?”

Guo DaLu was silent for a long while before eventually replying, “Yes.”

The old man also grew quiet for quite some time. Suddenly, from his throat, there was the sound of a short laugh. “No wonder my daughter says you are an honest and forthright person. It would appear that you really are.”

Guo DaLu cast a glance in Yan Qi’s direction. Yan Qi’s head still hung low. A smile could also be seen on MeiLan’s face. Lowering his head as well, Guo DaLu admitted, “Sometimes, I am not all that honest.” These were also very honest words. He had suddenly discovered that being truthful in front of this old man was a very good approach.

Sure enough, the old man gave a slight nod of approval. “True. Anyone who is dishonest has no hopes of coming here. An overly honest person, though, also would never be able to find this place.” With an unexpected sigh filled with emotion, he added, “That you could actually arrive here was not easy feat… truly not easy.”

As Guo DaLu heard these words in his ear, he felt a sudden twinge in his heart. Why did Yan Qi allow him to go through so many torments? Why did she want him to have to search so agonizingly?

Although the old man’s eye was half-closed, he seemed as if he had seen into Guo DaLu’s heart as he instructed, “Tell them to come in.”

MeiLan responded, “Yes.” She walked over very softly and very quietly opened another door.

Three people noiselessly walked in from the other side of the door. The first person was the pock-faced man. He had now changed into a long, snow-white robe. The instant he entered the room, he stood in a corner with his hands hanging down deferentially, showing both awe and respect, like a slave who has seen his master. Following in behind him was of course the hunchback. The third person was that one-legged monk. All three were dressed in the same white robe, and their manner all showed the same respect for the old man. The three of them stood with their heads lowered, not even glancing once at Guo DaLu.

The old man spoke, “I believe you know each other.”

The three people gave a nod of their heads in unison.

Guo DaLu could not stop himself from piping up, “They may know me, but I do not know them.”

Sighing, the old man replied, “Indeed, there are not many young people nowadays who would recognize them, but perhaps you would have heard their names.”

Guo DaLu: “Oh?”

Old man: “You had exchanged blows with Lan Kun. Were you not able to identify his martial art?”

Guo DaLu: “Lan Kun?”

Old man: “Lan Kun is his secular name. Ever since he became a monk at Shaolin, others only know him as Tie Song.”

This one-legged monk actually belonged to the sect of Shaolin! Only Shaolin’s “Wind and Thunder Demon Subduing Staff” could have that sort of astonishing might. A shocked expression came over Guo DaLu’s face as he exclaimed, “Could it be that he is the one who charged into Xingxiuhai[19] alone, who with ‘one staff subdued ten demons’ – ‘Golden Arhat’ Tie Song Dashi [dashi is a courtesy title for a Buddhist monk]?”

Old man: “Correct. It is he.”

Guo DaLu could not speak. This Golden Arhat was one of the people he had idolized in his youth. When he was seven or eight years old, he had already heard this name. Later, he heard someone say that this person had passed away. Who would have thought that he had actually gone into seclusion here?

Old man: “ ‘Beyond the Sky Roaming Dragon Divine Hunchback.’ I would think that you have heard this name before as well.”

Guo DaLu was taken aback once again. It turns out that this hunchback was actually the most famous lightness kung fu master of the past. No wonder, then, that he had only turned his head away and then even that person’s shadow could not be seen.

Old man: “ ‘Beyond the Sky Roaming Dragon Divine Hunchback’ and ‘Thousand Changes, Ten Thousand Transformations Wise Strategist’ – these two people have always been equal in fame.”

Stunned, Guo DaLu looked over at the pock-faced man and blurted, “Could he be Wise Strategist, Mr. Yuan Da?”

Old man: “So you know of him also.”

Guo DaLu stood there in a daze, unable to even exhale for a very long time. Twenty years ago, these three people had all been arrogant martial arts masters of jianghu with illustrious reputations. According to the legends of jianghu, these three had all died already. No one would have thought that these three people would be hiding here, and furthermore, seemed to have become this sickly old man’s servant and subordinate.



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[19] Xingxiuhai literally translates to ‘Sea of Constellations’. Located in the Qinghai province, it is a long and narrow low-lying geographical area of very high elevation. Its surface is covered with wetlands and numerous lakes of varying sizes. If one was to look at it from high above, those still waters would seem to sparkle under the sunlight, similar to glittering stars amid the night sky.

 

As Guo DaLu’s thoughts reached this point, his heart was struck with shock again. Even supreme martial arts masters like Golden Arhat or Divine Hunchback had become this old man’s servant and moreover, showed such veneration and respect toward him. What sort of personage could this old man be? Guo DaLu really could not figure it out. Even if the former abbot of Shaolin, Tie Mei, came back to life, Golden Arhat still would not show such reverence. Even if the world’s most famous hero of the past was reborn, the Divine Hunchback and the Wise Strategist would not willingly be his servant. What power did this old man have that these three people would obey and respect him in such a way?

“They put you through quite a bit of suffering today,” the old man said. “Are you feeling rather displeased with them in your heart?”

Guo Dalu wanted to shake his head, but he did not. Forcing a smile, he admitted, “A little bit.”

Old man: “Do you think what they did was very bizarre?”

Guo DaLu: “A little bit, too… well, not just a little bit.”

Old man: “You used every possible means to try and find this place. For what reason?”

With a glance over at Yan Qi again, Guo DaLu answered haltingly, “To find her.”

“Why do you want to find her?” the old man interrogated. It seemed that whenever he spoke, he was always questioning, and what’s more, the manner in which he asked was overbearing and aggressive, not giving others the slightest bit of leeway.

Guo DaLu lowered his eyes, and he seemed bashful and uneasy. But at this moment, Yan Qi suddenly lifted up her head and gazed at him with those eyes that were clear as the autumn waters. Courage and confidence immediately flooded Guo DaLu’s heart and, raising his head, he declared loudly, “Because I like her and I want to be with her forever.” This was an open an honorable thing, and the open and upright manner that he was using demonstrated his sincerity and forthrightness.

The old man’s tone became even more stern as, articulating each word, he demanded, “Do you want to take her as your wife?”

Guo DaLu did not even need to consider. “Yes.”

“And you wil never regret it?” the old man pressed.

Guo DaLu repeated, “Never regret.”

The old man’s half-closed eye suddenly flew open. Like a bolt of lightning, light seemed to shoot out from that eye. Guo DaLu had never before seen such a threatening and terrible eye. However, he did not try to avoid its stare because he knew this was an important moment and because in his heart, he had no misgivings and his conscience was clear.

The old man stared forcefully at him and his voice was stern as he questioned, “But do you know who I am?”

Guo DaLu shook his head. This question was precisely the same one he had been suppressing in his heart for a long time and had been longing to ask.

Old man: “You see the cross-shaped sword scar on my face and you still do not know who I am?”

A shudder of fear suddenly seized Guo DaLu’s heart, and his entire body was nearly shaken by this.

Cross-shaped sword wound! Fierce Crucifix Sword! The only person who had ever escaped with his life from beneath the Fierce Crucifix Sword was NanGong Chou! Could this gravely ill old man be the real NanGong Chou?!

All Guo DaLu could sense was his head spinning dizzily. He had never before thought that the one with the most notorious reputation, the number one evil person in jianghu, NanGong Chou, was actually Yan Qi’s father. No wonder Yan Qi had been certain that that black-clothed man was definitely not NanGong Chou. And that sword that had stabbed through the wall and into the black-clothed man’s heart had actually been Yan Qi’s doing. It was evident now that she had did it because she hated this person who had posed as her father and, therefore, did not hesitate to kill him in order to protect her father’s reputation. No wonder she was never willing to reveal her background and seemed to have many secrets that she could not say. The reason why, from the very beginning, she had not been willing to disclose to Guo DaLu that she was a girl must have been because she was ashamed of her family background and was afraid that once Guo DaLu knew about it, his feelings for her would change. Hence, she had to wait until right before they were facing death before she was willing to say it. And that was why she had run away.

These things that had seemed as if they forever would not be explained all finally had an answer. But Guo DaLu nearly could not believe it.



The room was even quieter. Everyone’s eyes were fixed intently on Guo DaLu, except Yan Qi, who had lowered her head again. She seemed as if she did not dare look at Guo DaLu again. She feared that Guo DaLu’s answer would break her heart.

It was not known how much time elapsed before the old man finally asked slowly, “Now you know who I am?”

“Yes,” Guo DaLu replied.

Old man: “If you change your mind now, it is still not too late.”

Guo DaLu: “It is too late now.”

Old man: “Why?”

“Because there is nothing in the world that can change the feelings I have for her. Even I, myself, am unable to.” His voice was so resolute, so sincere. He turned his head to look into Yan Qi’s eyes. Yan Qi was could not help lifting her head to gaze back at him. Tears could be seen in her eyes, but they were now tears of joy as well as tears of gratitude. Even MeiLan’s eyes seemed to have moistened slightly.

However, the old man’s lightning-like stare was still on Guo DaLu. “You are still willing to take her as your wife?”

Guo DaLu: “Yes.”

Old man: “You are willing to be the husband of NanGong Chou’s daughter?”

Guo DaLu: “Yes.”

The old man’s stare suddenly softened, like ice melting in the spring water, and he murmured, “Good. You really are a good child…… Yan’er truly was not wrong about you.” Slowly, he lowered the lid of his eye again and, with each word spoken clearly, said, “Now, I can set my mind at ease and entrust her to you. Now, she is your wife.”



End of Chapter 43

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 August 2008 06:16 )